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Pawleys Island: Ahead of schedule, dune project will move north

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After months of delay, a project to rebuild storm-ravaged sand dunes on Pawleys Island is ahead of schedule and will move north from the island’s narrow south end before work wraps up by the end of the month. Expanding the work means that the First Street beach access will be closed to allow heavy equipment onto the beach.

The island lost an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of sand to erosion caused by storms in October. It sought state and federal emergency permits to push up sand on the south end. Although the state permit was issued in December, the office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management required the town to get approval from about 80 property owners on the south end before moving sand in front of their houses. It didn’t get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers until mid-February.

In the meantime, the town applied for a second state permit to allow sand scraping along the entire island. That was received last week, just before crews from Goodson Construction began moving the first sand. Both permits require that work stop by March 31.

“We thought there was no way,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

But Goodson brought in additional equipment and by this week it had completed most of the work on the south end. The sand can only be scraped to a depth of 2 feet. The dune can be no wider than 20 feet and no higher than 6 feet.

“It’s really a temporary measure,” said Andrew Giles, a senior technical associate with Coastal Science and Engineering, the firm hired to help with permitting. “Hopefully the material will stay put going into the summertime when there’s natural dune accretion.”

At the southernmost end of the project, there wasn’t much of a dune before the storms and so there wasn’t much sand to scrape. In some places, the dune pushed up last week has already washed away. “They’re in a tough spot right there,” Giles said.

The current permits don’t allow the town to bring sand to the beach from other sites.

The work on the island south of Hazard Street is estimated to cost about $70,000. Town Council voted this week to spend up to $150,000 to continue the work north of Hazard Street. “What it boils down to is we have an opportunity to put some sand on the beach and protect people’s houses,” Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said.

The town would like to get reimbursed for the work from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has provided funds to areas of the state damaged by record flooding that accompanied the October storms. But the process hasn’t been easy, Mayor Bill Otis said. “We have been at the wall for two months.”

FEMA recently sent the town a two-page list of questions in fine print asking for information dating back before Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Otis said the town has the records, but doesn’t have the staff to compile its response. He has written to the state Emergency Management Division for help. “We have stacks of stuff. We just don’t know what to do with it,” Otis said.

Otis said he was relieved that council members agreed to move forward with the scraping despite no assurances from FEMA. “I think we have a responsibility to our property owners and our visitors to maintain a healthy beach,” he said.

Work is due to shift to the beach north of Pawleys Pier by early next week. The First Street beach access will be closed and the walkway over the dune will be removed to provide a path for the equipment. The public parking lot on the south end closed last week for the first phase of the project. Fabbri said that will reopen when the contractor no longer needs it as a staging area.

“The bottom line is, time is limited,” Fabbri said.

It will cost $10,000 to $15,000 to replace the walkway at First Street, he said. But it needed work anyway and could be improved to allow access for emergency vehicles, he added.

Pawleys Island is the only town in the state that has received a permit for emergency beach work following the storms, Otis said. That’s one reason why the permitting process was difficult, Giles explained. “This is the first time the corps has issued a permit like this for an entire town. Usually, it’s reserved for individual property owners,” he said.

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